If you were so adventurous to do some research on Google on Kazakhstan, you will probably be surprised to haphazardly find in the news: the arrest of 6 Hungarian tourists in Borat’s apparel (low-cut green underwear), the elimination of Kazakhstan from the Football World Cup or else, the project of abandoning the Cyrillic alphabet for the Latin one.
You will also discover that Astana (the capital of the country, whose name changed for Nursultan in March 2019) hosted the international exhibition around the “Energy of the future” with around 4 000 000 visitors*.
We should not miss this “exotic” country even if we hear so little about it.
Kazakhstan: A Full Potential Country
This former republic, part of the Soviet Union became independent in 1991 when the Communist Bloc exploded. It is now growing exponentially. It became the most powerful country of Central Asia economically speaking. The economy is boosted by the exportation of carbohydrates and ores (2% of world petrol reserves, as well as iron, manganese, charcoal, and more). But Kazakhstan aims at diversifying its activities by targeting innovation, green economy or industrial production.
The privatization of the economy is speeding up, opening up huge possibilities for investors. An example is the opening of two new production plants for commercial vehicles and SUVs in 2018 by UAZ.
Now is the right moment to get to know Kazakhstan better. This country’s ambition is to be part of the TOP 30 World economic powers by 2020**.
Kazakhstan: a multi-faceted country
Located in Central Asia, south of Russia and North-East of China, Kazakhstan is 5 times bigger than France and has 16 000 000 inhabitants.
Almaty (Alma-Ata), former capital and second city of the country after Astana, is a historical and cultural city, full of contrasts. Old and new appear next to each other in architecture together with traditions and modernism (4WD vehicles among others). You can find a magnificent orthodox church, full of happy believers on Sundays, not far away from the mosque behind the “zelioni bazar” (the green bazar, this souk, market where you can find absolutely everything!) Gastronomy is diverse: fine cuisine and “junk-food” side by side in the same neighborhood. The first MacDonald’s restaurant opened on Tole Bi (one of the largest boulevards) next to exquisite and affordable Chechen, Georgian and new look restaurants.
A Cultural Patchwork
The Kazakh (agglutinating, of turco-mongol origin) and the Russian language, more frequent in the North of the country, are both official languages. They cement a patchwork of peoples as Uighurs, Chinese, Khazars. This melting-pot of Slavic and Asian values is really interesting. It also encompasses a deep feeling of national pride.
The dominating religion is Islam *** (around 70%), a moderate and open version of it, followed by the Christian Church *** (orthodox mainly) which represents 26% of the believers. All confessions are present.
Social traditions are long-lasting. For example, those related to weddings, or even more those related to the three hordes or jüz (the Big, the Medium and the Small one). Nomadism has little by little been dissolved, but the collectives are still present. Appearances are important and influence people’s choices.
Those are all aspects that should be taken into account when a French manager is sent to Kazakhstan.
French Managers are to Be Prepared to Kazakh Culture.
France is today number 3 as far as investments in the country **are concerned, right behind the Netherlands and the United States. France is active in numerous industrial sectors. Kazakhs are Francophiles, our language is really appreciated and can be learned from Kindergarten. Nevertheless, managers should be ready to face managerial practices dating back from the Soviet area.
Bureaucracy is really weighty. Be prepared to have a series of paperwork to sign when on assignment, even short ones. They also like “degrees”, so you should deliver one of them on any occasion, be it a training or a contest. You also have to abide to the norms et customs agreed upon. There will be no exceptions. And they may tell you this in an abrupt way. You will have to be careful using methods and presentations in order to avoid hurting your counterparts.
The Soviet Influence
The Soviet era left a mark of rigor and discipline. It can be observed in Kazakhstani companies. Organizations are highly hierarchical. Absolute power is given to the boss and it is impossible to bypass him. You better manage to negotiate with people on the same level of the hierarchy or business might not happen.
Like in clans and tribes in Africa, hordes have defined the working of the society. They influence relationships in general (cooptation, family promotion…). Networks are key and Kazakhstanis prefer doing business with people they know. The objective is to be charismatic and professional. You should get to know you partners well and develop trust. This also implies for the French manager to mix personal and professional lives. He should be ready to answer personal questions. This is typical of high context *** and polychronic *** countries. Time is flexible, patience a must.
A Dose of Common Sense
To conclude we have to remind you that you will need a dose of common sense and humility to conquer the Kazakhstanis. Protocol and etiquette are compulsory. Topics like history, politics or religion are to be alluded to with care. And our national humor with scarcity.
*Bureau International des Expositions
**Ministère de l’Economie et des Finances
*** Edward T. Hall